The role of motion and intensity in deaf children’s recognition of real human facial expressions of emotion

There is substantial evidence to suggest that deafness is associated with delays in emotion understanding, which has been attributed to delays in language acquisition and opportunities to converse. However, studies addressing the ability to recognise facial expressions of emotion have produced equivocal findings. The two experiments presented here attempt to clarify emotion recognition in deaf children by considering two aspects: the role of motion and the role of intensity in deaf children’s emotion recognition. In Study 1, 26 deaf children were compared to 26 age-matched hearing controls on a computerised facial emotion recognition task involving static and dynamic expressions of 6 emotions. Eighteen of the deaf and 18 age-matched hearing controls additionally took part in Study 2, involving the presentation of the same 6 emotions at varying intensities. Study 1 showed that deaf children’s emotion recognition was better in the dynamic rather than static condition, whereas the hearing children showed no difference in performance between the two conditions. In Study 2, the deaf children performed no differently from the hearing controls, showing improved recognition rates with increasing rates of intensity. With the exception of disgust, no differences in individual emotions were found. These findings highlight the importance of using ecologically valid stimuli to assess emotion recognition.